The Anitoxidant Myth

We are all familiar with the antioxidant story.  We develop all kinds of diseases because we don’t get enough antioxidants.  Those evil particles called free radicals cause us to age and become diseased.  However, by taking antioxidant supplements we can kill the free radicals and not get sick.  In fact, we can even cure our disease with these miracle pills.  We are also told that vitamins are antioxidants.  For example, Vitamin C and Vitamin E are often mentioned in this manner. 

Well, what if this wasn’t quite true?  As you probably guessed, since I’m writing about this topic – it isn’t!  It is another nutrition myth that has become ingrained in our thinking.  If you think about it oxygen is probably the most important nutrient on the planet.  Without it there is no life!  Why would we want to consume something that is anti-oxygen?  If I have three people and one will get no food, one no water, and one no air for the next day which one do you not want to be?  Yes, the answer is rather obvious.

Our story begins in 1954 with Dr. Denham Harman and his free radical theory of aging.  He was conducting research on the effects of free radicals produced by radiation.  He concluded that these free radicals accelerated cell death (aging) which contributed to cancer, heart disease, and a host of other diseases.  Further experiments in test tubes showed that antioxidants, such as Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), could slow down this aging process. 

However, this is where the story goes off course.  We must understand that even though the government allows you to say so, alpha tocopherol is not Vitamin E and ascorbic acid is not Vitamin C.  Alpha tocopherol and ascorbic acid are fractions of the full vitamin complex as they appear in nature.  They are produced in laboratories.  Without going into all the details here I’ll make this simple.  We all know that scurvy is a Vitamin C deficiency.  The British sailors used lemons and limes to prevent scurvy.  Well, guess what happens if you give ascorbic acid to someone with scurvy?  They will die.  They need the full Vitamin C complex as it is in nature, not the fractionated part made in a lab.  The tocopherols and ascorbic acid are actually a preservative whose role in nature is to protect the complete vitamin complex.

To repeat, real vitamins are complexes found in nature in real food (animal and plant).  Synthetic vitamins act as preservatives.  This has nothing to do with a nutrient.

So what then is the purpose of the free radical?  It is designed to fight an infection.  Free radicals do not damage tissues, infection does.  Free radicals are designed to kill bacteria and fungi, not human tissue.  In fact, the body is producing free radicals to protect itself.

Many researchers have attempted to show the benefits of antioxidants and have discovered the exact opposite results.  In specific studies:
1.      Antioxidants did not prevent gastrointestinal cancers and increased overall mortality.
2.      High dosage synthetic Vitamin E supplementation increased all cause mortality.
3.      Long term synthetic Vitamin E supplementation did not prevent cancer or heart disease and increased the risk of heart failure.
4.      Use of beta carotene (synthetic Vitamin A) increased stroke risk by 62%.
5.      Use of alpha tocopherol (synthetic Vitamin E) increased risk of cerebral infarction by 113%.
6.      Use of alpha tocopherol increased risk of head and neck cancers.

Why these results?  Because in real life these antioxidants (these isolated fractions from vitamins produced synthetically in laboratories) are oxygen inhibitors and we need oxygen for life!

You may say that you’ve used antioxidant supplements and they make you feel better.  Well, that may be true for a short period of time.  Antioxidants drive oxygen from the blood to the tissues.  In the short term this benefits the tissue, but in the long term is creates a shortage of oxygen in the blood.  This is why the above results were found in long term studies.

Hopefully I’ve done this justice.  Special thanks to Mark Anderson from Standard Process West for communicating this information.


Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.